Tag Archives: Injury prevention

A week of cross-training

My plan: A week of cross-training to allow my hip, which has moved from stubbornly sore to possibly injured, time to heal. I hope to swim, bike and row my way through a running-less week, losing none of my running fitness in the process.

Sound like I’m dreaming? Hey, it worked for Alberto Salazar!

The running legend qualified for the Olympic team in the 10,000m in 1980 after taking a two-month hiatus from running, relying on swimming as his primary activity following an IT band injury.

This, according to a great spread about cross-training in this month’s Running Times. The feature also includes some helpful tips for rowing, which I’ve been trying to incorporate based on suggestions from the FIRST training program.If you’re using an “erg,” as the rowing machines at the gym are apparently called, you may want to read the whole RT story.

The takeaway: According to former college rower Kelly Johnson, who’s quoted in the story, proper technique involves making sure you’re isolating your three major rowing muscle groups, and engaging them in the proper order: your leg muscles first, then your back, then your arms. Also, she says most people find a stroke rate of 18 to 26 comfortable.

I also might give cycling another try. I was pretty hard-core about cycling when I first started my hip-injury recovery, going on enough long rides to purchase two pairs of hideous padded bike shorts. Almost as soon as I bought them, biking became painful, too, and if I’m gonna hurt myself, I’m gonna hurt myself doing something worth the pain — i.e., running. But writing a story for Kickstand magazine, a cool mag about cruiser bikes that debuted this month, may have inspired me to give low-key, easy cycling a try.

My story was about Robin Little, owner of Bikes and Bites, a cruiser-bike rental company, who says: “We’re not doing this as an ‘Oh my God, how are we going to make a living’ venture,” Little said. “We just want to see how a two-wheel cruiser bike can contribute to the betterment of our city. When you’re motivated by passion and fun, it’s always easier to wake up in morning, no?”

And, of course, swimming. Here’s what I’m hoping the next several days look like:

Today: Swim 3,000 yards, lift (only exercises from my old physical-therapy routine for legs)

Friday: Swim 3,000 yards

Saturday: Lift, swim 4,500 yards (last long-ish swim before the Bay Bridge Swim!)

Sunday: See if Steve will take a long bike ride with me, or row 30 minutes

Monday: Swim 3,000 yards

Tuesday: Try running again. If my hip still feels as bad as it does now, it’s time to see the doctor again.

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Review: Massage at Still Point in Takoma Park

I am more than a big, walking hip flexor. stillpoint2

So says Fanny Mandelberger, with whom I’d booked my birthday massage yesterday. She explained this after I asked her to work solely on my hip and ankle during our one-hour session at The Still Point in Takoma Park.

As a human, I know this whole-person approach is the only real way to approach any sore spot. But as a runner, I sort of just wanted someone to rub my sore spots. I was skeptical.

I shouldn’t have been. Mandelberger, with 25 years of experience, can tell based on where you’re tight and knotty what you do for work, whether you’re right- or left-handed and whether you grind your teeth. She’s a master at honing in on the source of pain, which is often not where the massage recipient thinks it is. She spent a large part of my massage working on my lower back, which I hadn’t realized was such a mess.I also hadn’t realized it would lead to a remarkably pain-free hip, which is maybe the best birthday gift I could have received.

Even the atmosphere of Still Point, located in Old Town Takoma Park, lends to healing, starting with the waiting room, a peaceful, curtained nook with Buddha-themed artwork and complimentary tea.

The healing feeling continued even as I was walking out the door, as Mandelberger offered a few quick words of advice about posture, teeth-grinding and creating calming space in my mind before darting off to her next lucky customer.

Rates at Still Point are reasonable: 30 minutes for $50, 60 minutes for $80, 90 minutes for $115. I don’t know about your household, but that still makes this an occasional treat rather than a regular appointment.

Mandelberger understands this, and recommended a few cheap fixes:

Using a foam roller to work out soreness in tight iliotibial bands. A lot of gyms have these, or you can buy one for about $15 from Sports Authority.

Try miracle Balls: fist-sized balls that help with self-massage for the back. Available at Borders in downtown Silver Spring.

Self-massage with Muscle Massage Balm from Big Dipper Wax Works. The menthol and camphor will soothe sore muscles. The essential oils make it smell more like a cup of chai and less like a hospital, unlike other muscle rubs (ahem, BenGay). Seven bucks will get you a small vat of it, and it’s sold at Still Point.

How do you get your massage fix? Do you have a favorite massage therapist in the area, or a favorite self-massage technique? Let me know by posting a comment.

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More cross-training for runners: BOSU for ITB syndrome, swimming

I gave the BOSU balance trainer a respectful and terrified shout-out earlier BOSUthis week, when I learned dozens of new ways it could kick my butt at the gym.

I am now convinced it not only has the ability to kick my butt, but possibly to find world peace. This thing is kind of magical.

My runner-friend Amy suggested her own BOSU routine, suggested to her during physical therapy for ITB syndrome. In addition to sharing a name, she and I share this pain-in-the-butt (or, more appropriately, hip) condition that never, ever seems to go away. Here’s how Amy describes her routine:

First, I do all my exercises with BOSU flat side up, blue side on the floor. Here’s the “runner’s routine” my PT recommended:

-Squats with 10-lb med ball: 3 sets of 8
-1-leg raises in following positions: 3 sets of 15 seconds/each
(all of these require you to balance on one leg in the middle of the ball while doing something else with other leg)
-leg bent 90 degrees at knee (shin parallel to ground)
-leg bent 90 degree at hip (quad parallel to ground)
-leg extended 45 degrees out from side of body
-leg extended back 45 degrees/body forward (think swan)
(Once you get good at all these, close your eyes, which makes it harder to balance and puts more strain on your ITBs)

I thought these would be along the lines of my dreaded leg lifts, which provide an almost-instant sense of stability in my hip muscles, but don’t do much in the way of a traditional workout. Kids, something about these balancing exercises had me sweating like … well, they had me sweating a whole lot. Today, my glutes want to kick my butt (they find they’re not so well positioned to do so, luckily).

Also rocking my cross-training workout world yesterday: a new swim workout modified from this page. My 3,200-yard workout:

300 warmup

3X300 free with pull buoy. Take six hard strokes every 50 yards.

5X200, first 50 fly, next 150 free.

3X300 free with pull buoy. Take six hard strokes every 50 yards.

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We meet again, BOSU balance trainer

Forgive me, gym. I have forsaken thee. BOSU

My efforts to amp up my swimming workouts on off days from running have led me to neglect the strength-training I know I need to do to stay injury-free. The neglect stopped today, when I decided to devote my entire lunch hour to a lifting workout.

When I was nearly done with my workout, fueled by the Mixologist’s awesome playlist, I struck up a conversation with one of the trainers at the recreation center at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, where I work out. The rec center, by the way, is called the Comfort Zone. It is aptly named, as it includes not only a gym and a pool, but a package store.

One thing led to another, and soon, I was picking the trainer’s brain for new ways to work on the muscles that stabilize my hips. I’m not yet sorry I asked, but once the soreness sets in tomorrow, I’m sure I will be.

What happened next: half an hour worth of lunges, squats and other forms of torture using the BOSU balance trainer. The BOSU and I have met before, when it bucked me to the ground like a mechanical bull during a physical therapy session. Today’s meeting wasn’t quite so unfortunate for me, but it did call my attention to some gaps in my current workout plan.

“Your legs are plenty strong,” the trainer said, watching me struggle mightily to stay on the BOSU and off the ground. “What this does is target your instabilities: the ankles and hips, for you.”

HOW DID HE KNOW?

Turns out, lots of exercise physiologists recommend using the BOSU to supplement running. Check out some suggestions for running-specific BOSU use here. No. 6, the lunges, are deliciously hard if you do them slowly and with good form.

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My favorite kind of doctor

I headed to the doctor today to make sure my cranky ankle isn’t something serious.

I had nothing to worry about, and the whole experience made me glad I sucked it up and put my mind at ease.

I was feeling pretty anxious in the waiting room, surrounded by Good Housekeeping and Golf magazines and older adults with canes and wheelchairs. But when I got into my doctor’s exam room, it was a different world. Running ads, Runner’s World columns he’s quoted in and photos of him finishing triathlons and marathons plastered the walls. A stack of Muscle and Fitness magazines sat beneath the exam table. I felt at home.

Dr. Pereles himself further eased my mind. After a couple quick X-rays, he determined that I definitely don’t have a stress fracture (hint: If you have a stress fracture, you’ll know it. It’s apparently not one of those “maybe I do, maybe I don’t” type things). He put me on a hard-core anti-inflammatory steroid called Medrol that you take for only six days, and said the problem should be gone.

Really? Just like that? I threw in a few other symptoms I hadn’t mentioned, such as the fact that something in my ankle clicks when I roll it.

“Mine does that too,” he said cheerfully. “It always will. But it’s harmless.”

Ditto for the numbness I feel (or, rather, don’t feel) on the side of my foot.

“Yep, that’s the nerve,” he chirped, adding that after a running injury of his own, he’d endured weeks of similar numbness.

Here’s the best part: He asked how much I run currently. I explained my three-day-a-week plan.

“Really?” he said. “For distances like the half-marathon, you really ought to be running four or five days a week.”

I left the office glowing, with marching orders of, “Don’t stop running or anything.”

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Coping with running injuries

When my friend Lisa tore her meniscus skiing recently, she “bawled (her) eyes out for three whole minutes,” she said. Who wouldn’t? That just sounds painful.

“Not because of the pain, but because of the thought that I may not be able to participate in the TRI I’ve been training for,” she continued.

Oh. That’s something different, and is almost tougher to deal with.

As I prepare to see the doctor tomorrow thanks to a cranky ankle, I thought I’d remind myself (and share with you) some tips for coping with an injury-forced running hiatus.

  • First, get yourself in the right mindset by reading this helpful Runner’s World story. When I first read this, I was sidelined with a minor injury that kept me from running, and felt like my whole identity had been stripped away. When I read that Kara Goucher had felt the same way and overcome those feelings by reminding herself that she is not just a runner, but “a person who loves to run,” it was like that scene in “Fever Pitch” where Jimmy Fallon can’t get over a Red Sox loss until he sees the actual players out on the town, carrying on just fine. In other words: If Kara Goucher can suck it up and deal, I certainly can, too. The take-aways: Stay positive. Focus on recovery. If it helps, hang out with your running buddies off the road.
  • Get stronger. Physical therapy can help you learn which muscle groups are weirdly weak, and what to do to strengthen them so you don’t injure yourself again. It can also provide a heckuva stregth workout, if you get the right physical therapist. I can honestly say I was in better shape after taking a break from running than before, thanks to more lifting and cross-training.
  • Remember that this happens to pros all the time — and that they come back better and faster after.
  • Focus on other athletic pursuits. I used my last rehab period to get back into swimming, which I did competitively in high school. I trained for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge 1-Mile Challenge last year, and I’m doing it again on June 14. No matter what the doctor says tomorrow, I ought to get my butt in gear and take training for it seriously. It’s a nice reminder that I’m more than a runner — I’m a multi-sport athlete.
  • Oh, and — I’m more than a runner. Like Kara Goucher, I’m a person who loves to run. I’ll leave you with one more tip from my girl Kara, who also happens to be a fellow CU alum: “When you’re injured, it feels like you’re missing out on the biggest opportunities, but when you step back, you realize there’s plenty of time to run and race,” she told Runner’s World.

Got any tips for coping with injuries? Share ’em by posting a comment below.

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Recovering, and setting new goals

“Really,” I said Saturday afternoon after the race, practically bragging, “I’m not even that sore.”

Famous last words. At dinner, I noticed that my ankle was feeling kind of cranky. When I stood up after a two-hour movie, I noticed the weird stinging sensation on my thighs that indicates 13.1 miles is, in fact, long enough to need Body Glide. And when Steve hugged me, I noticed that even my lower back and abs were kinda sore. Oof.

Truly, though, as the queen of injury prevention, I take post-race recovery seriously, starting immediately after the race. Within minutes of crossing the finish line Saturday, I drank an Odwalla Protein Monster (get the vanilla kind — tastes a little like a milkshake) and ate a banana to replenish carbs and protein. I kept moving for a while, then I stretched, even though I desperately wanted to sit down.On the way home, still wearing my mylar blanket tied around my neck, we stopped at Giant to get a huge bag of ice for a dreaded-buy-necessary ice bath.

The FIRST half-marathon training plan I followed is pretty specific about rest and recovery. After an all-out half-marathon, which this certainly was for me, it suggests less-intense workouts for two weeks following the race. Fine by me! I took yesterday off, will swim today and plan to run easy tomorrow.

I’m focusing my energy on two things: taking care of the little aches and pains that cropped up during the race (more on injury-prevention tools later in the week), and setting new goals. Next up is the George Washington Parkway 10-miler on April 26. There will be other races to follow, but the one I’ve got my eye on is … wait for it … the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 25! I got an early sign-up coupon at the half-marathon over the weekend, so I rewarded myself for the good finish my signing up for the marathon yesterday.

This will be my second full marathon. I finished my first, the hilly and hot (but still awesome) Nashville Country Music Marathon,  in 4:34 in April 2007. My main goal for this one is to cross the finish line with no significant injuries. But I’d also like to improve my time. The McMillan Running race time calculator says based on my half-marathon time over the weekend, I ought to be able to run a 3:50 marathon. This seems a little fast, but I’m gonna set an early, seemingly do-able goal of finishing in four hours.

My 16-week training program officially doesn’t start until June. But it assumes you can run 15 miles from the get-go, so I’ll be keeping my mileage up and generally staying in training mode until then. I’ll also be trying to run a fast (for me) 5K — perhaps the Silver Spring Earth Day 5K on April 19. I’ll keep you posted, but keep checking in here for suggestions for running routes, training tips, cross-training workouts, race reports, sports-nutrition info and playlists I find helpful as I accomplish my next set of goals.

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Surviving the ice bath

I had a fabulous 10-mile run yesterday in neighborhoods around Rock Creek Park and Seminary Road in Silver Spring. I felt so good, I actually added extra hill loops at the end, despite being within site of my building (the point at which I usually say, “Screw this,” and run home).

How did I reward myself? My dunking myself in a pool of ice-cold water, of course.

The ice bath is one of those bizarre rituals of the long-distance runner that’s really hard to understand until you’ve done a few long runs and experienced the soreness that follows. Since I’m now the queen of injury prevention, the ice bath has become a regular part of my training program.

Physical therapist and ultrarunner Nikki Kimball explains the science behind the ice bath here, and notes that her favorite way to employ it is with “a post-race soak in a cold river or lake with fellow competitors.”

Here’s how it works in real life: You limp over to a supermarket or gas station immediately following a long run. You buy one or two bags of ice, and possibly a bottle of Advil as a side dish. You ignore the worried and confused stares of the checkout clerk and others around you. You proceed home, dump the ice in your bathtub, fill the tub enough cold water to cover your legs, and … get in.

Kimball recommends coping this way: “I put on a down jacket and a hat and neoprene booties, make myself a cup of hot tea, and collect some entertaining reading material to help the next 15 to 20 minutes pass quickly.”

I personally like Deena Kastor’s strategy. The Olympic marathoner told Runner’s World recently she likes to crank up a Madonna CD and sing along at the top of her lungs until her legs have acclimated (i.e., gone numb). Might be worth a try. If you hear me singing “Like a Prayer” (broken by some whimpers), you’ll know what’s happening.

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Bad medicine

I should have done lunges today.

I wasn’t lazy — I did the stationary bike for 45 minutes at an intensity I usually save for intervals. But somehow, I couldn’t make myself do any kind of strength work. This is despite knowing, after three months of physical therapy, how good — no, essential — strength training is for runners.

I’m possibly one of the only people on earth to have a solely positive experience with physical therapy. Each appointment with Jason, who patiently solved the weird mystery of why I couldn’t run, was like a session with a personal trainer who just happened to be certified to mess around with my hip joint to put it back in its proper place. And at the end of the three months, I could run again — bonus!

At the end of my stint with Jason, I asked him which of the exercises in my routine I could drop if I got lazy.

“Um,” he said, “they’re all pretty basic. I would pretty much make sure you do them all.”

A year later, I still faithfully perform the fun ones (shuffling around with a resistance band makes me feel like a linebacker) and the awful ones (leg lifts are the bane of my existence) a few times a week. I’d rather be running, but along with cross-training, this is the preventative medicine that KEEPS me running.

I’ll get my butt into gear later this week on the lunges, leg presses, etc., and knock out a set of the dreaded leg-lifts tonight. In the meantime, I’ll share my physical therapy workout here. It’s a great preventative measure for uninjured runners, as the single-leg business doesn’t allow you to rely on your stronger leg (yes, you have one) to get through the reps.

3 X 25 walking lunges
3 X 25 single-leg presses
3X 25 single-leg squats
Hamstring curls
Side shuffle with resistance band
Leg lifts with weights (I do these on each side, on my stomach and on my back. Here’s a how-to for the side-lying lifts.)
Clamshells (shown here, along with lots of other interesting-looking running-specific exercises)

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